Fiddi Angermeyer, founder of Angermeyer Cruises, is a Galapagos original. Born and raised there, he acquired his boat-building skills firsthand from his father Fritz, who sailed with his three brothers from Germany in the 1930s. Fiddi Angermeyer is considered a genuine pioneer of the Islands’ charter industry.
Combining this family heritage with great determination and sheer hard work, Fiddi' s charters have flourished and excelled for more than four decades thanks to an intimate knowledge of land and ocean that is matched by few. I sat down with him this month at his Angermeyer Point Restaurant in Puerto Ayora to learn more about him and the operation.
How does your own history tie in with that of the Galapagos Islands tourism one?
My parents arrived here separately in the 1930s. Like most families on Santa Cruz Island they were into farming because they needed to be and later my father got into fishing and boat building. In the 1950s my uncle, Karl Angermeyer, started taking explorers and scientists out on trips. My parents joined in and started doing the same. It turned out that taking people out to explore the islands earned you more money than fishing and it was a whole lot easier. So the boats were adapted for people instead of fish. I went to the U.S. for school and then returned back here just as a real tourism industry was starting, first with scientists, then curious travelers.
How did you get your start after returning?
I have been at this in some form since the mid-1960s. I went to work on a boat affiliated with the Darwin Center for a while and learned a lot, then I started working on a boat my father had, the Dixie. It held four passengers and a crew of two. I learned by doing everything: fixing what went wrong, driving the boat, being a guide.
I used that as a stepping stone to get a more comfortable boat and then kept repeating the process. I've lost count of how many boats I've been through now. Sometimes I look around the harbor and I've worked on half the boats anchored here.
Did you find yourself adapting to changing tastes over the years as the visitors became more mainstream?
I was one of the first owners to have a boat that had private baths for each cabin. That was a big deal. When we first started, everyone just slept on a deck together. I mainly just went by what I liked and wanted though. I was one of the first to install air conditioning because I wanted it in my cabin. I was looking for more comfort myself!
Now that there is so much more competition and there are all these bigger boats out there, what sets Angermeyer Cruises apart?
I am always trying to give an honest picture, to not oversell what we deliver. I am happiest when someone comes off the ship and goes, "Wow, that was incredible. So much more than I expected!" Although I could hype our tours as "luxury" because the service is great, I try to stay away from that word because I don't want people going, "So where's the caviar?"
Also, I've done it all, from being skipper to cook to toilet fixer---and toilet cleaner. Some of these other owners would get seasick if they had to go out on their own boat. After running tourist boats around the islands myself since 1976, I know what's important to customers---like lots of open deck space, good food, a bathroom that's not cramped, and a comfortable bed. And I know what's not so important---like a cabin big enough to dance around in.
How does the Andando Tours part of the operation fit in overall?
We didn't have decent communications in the Galapagos until the year 2000. Before that you could barely get a phone call made and forget about e-mail. There were only two flights a week for a long time. So we set up Andando Tours in Quito to do bookings and interface with travelers making plans. Now they set up tours on land in Ecuador as well.
What part of the operation are you most passionate about?
I love rebuilding boats. I love taking an old boat that someone just wants to get rid of and turning it into something special. Right now I'm working on the Mandalay, which used to be part of the Windjammer sailing cruise operation before they went under. It's in rough shape right now, but it's structurally sound and there's a huge amount of deck space. We have the opportunity to make this one a really eco-friendly sailing ship that is also quite comfortable. I might even make the small boats going ashore operate with sails and oars. That would be a first! We all do too much polluting---not only exhaust, but noise and light too. I'd like to set a better example.
Are eco-friendly initiatives gaining more traction here now in the Galapagos?
Yes, we seem to be making real progress. The Smart Voyager certification we have on our boats is a positive. Wind is supplying some power on one island, there are some solar installations in place, like at the marina office across the bay here. I am putting in solar power soon for this restaurant. At first it will be enough to power the lighting and hot water, then eventually we'll have enough to power the refrigeration units as well. Financially it's a long payoff, but that part is getting better with things like low-wattage LED lights. It's the right thing to do and I think we'll draw people in because of that.
To see more about the company and its fleet of Galapagos sailing ships, see AngermeyerCruises.com.